The Biblical Mandate to Sing
Why do we sing hymns in Christian worship? Is the singing of hymns optional? Is it something churches do simply because it is an enjoyable to affirm biblical truth that way? If a congregation or an individual doesn’t want to sing hymns in their worship, may they get rid of singing altogether? These are very important questions to ask, because they get right at the heart of the function hymns play in our worship.
Put very simply, we sing in our worship because the Bible tells us to. Since the Bible is our supreme authority, we must do whatever it tells us to do in worship, and we may do only what it tells us to do. Since the Bible commands that we sing together as his people, we must have hymns in our Christian worship.
Let us begin broadly with some example of Old Testament commands to sing in assemblies. Psalm 149:1, for example, admonishes us to “Sing to the Lord a new song.” But notice the specific location of this singing: “in the assembly of the godly.” God has commanded us to sing to him, not only individually, but also corporately. Psalms 9:11,18:49, 21:13, 57:9, 95:1 are additional examples of commands or illustrations of singing praise to God corporately. God has commanded us to gather corporately for worship, and singing is one element that should be a part of those gatherings.
But what about the Christian church specifically? The two most well-known commands to sing together are found in Ephesians 5:18-21 and Colossians 3:16:
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Notice the specific “one another” contexts of these commands, which indicates the corporate nature of the singing. Indeed, singing must be a part of the corporate gatherings of the church.
So very simply, we sing in our worship because the Bible tells us to do so. This may seems obvious and simplistic, but it raises an important point: singing in Christian worship is not optional. An individual cannot just decide that because he doesn’t like singing, he won’t sing. A church can’t decide that they’re going to eliminate congregational singing and just have a concert with performers on a stage. The New Testament clearly commands that we sing and make melody with one another in our corporate gatherings.